Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

What It Feels Like When Your Book Goes to #1

You’re in Los Angeles. You’re on book tour. You’re in a cab – you just got off the flight from Houston. It’s hot, though not as hot as Houston was. Your cab driver is from Ghana. His name is Willie. He used to be on their Olympic track team, now he’s moonlighting as an actor in LA. He was on The  X-Files. He gives you his card.

(Later you look him up on IMDB. He was in season 4, “Teliko.”)

You check your phone. You missed a call from your publisher. You put your phone back in your bag.

It’s Wednesday, two in the afternoon pacific time, which is a special time of the week in the books industry. Civilians see the New York Times bestseller list on the weekend, but the Times privately circulates the list to the book industry on Wednesday afternoons at five o’clock Eastern time (in other words, now). At that moment, once a week, all authors and editors everywhere quietly bow their heads and mutter a prayer to the Retail Gods and wait for whatever judgement has been placed upon them.

You’re waiting too, because your book just got published last week. But you’re pretending to yourself that you’re not waiting. You’re so cool you’re not even checking your voicemail.

Now you stop narrating in the second person.

I had pretty good reasons to think that I’d be somewhere on the list. The Magicians and The Magician King both “hit the list,” as they say in the parlance. And believe me when I say that I was over the moon when that happened. Up till that point I had never been anywhere near the Times list, and not for lack of trying. I’ve been at this a while. So I remember the moments when I got those calls: once in LA, once in St. Louis. There’s a ritual: the whole team at Viking gathers around a speakerphone — my publicist (Lindsay), my editor (Allison), my editor’s boss (Clare).

Those times I wasn’t at the top of the list. More towards the middle part. Middle-to-lower. But still, a lot changed for me when that happened.

That was three years ago. I don’t dwell on sales numbers too much — I cash the checks, but I don’t do the math, because that way madness lies (and also unlike most of my characters I’m not that good at math). Trilogies — anecdotally speaking — tend to either fade away or gather momentum as they go. I had reason to hope, just based on the volume of fan mail I get, that the Magicians books have been building, so based on that I figured I might hit #5. If I had to guess — and I couldn’t stop myself from guessing — that’s what I would have guessed.

But really: I was good with whatever. I was in my little internal Zen garden. Making the list was a dream come true, and the rest was just a popularity contest, and I was over that. That was junior high stuff.

The phone rang again. I let it go. I could catch up with that stuff later. Willie and I were talking about the Magicians TV show. But after a while we ran out of things to talk about. There was a pause. So I checked my voice mail. Here was the message:


I didn’t listen to the rest. Just then a text message arrived:

Lev!!!!! It’s allison! Check your voicemail! You are #1!!!!!!!!!! #! New York Times Bestseller !!!!!!!!!!!!! Congratulations !!!!!!!!!!!

Was I zen about it? I was not zen. Not even a little. I may have punched the air. I may have cried a little bit. I think maybe Willie cried a bit. Fuck yes it was a popularity contest, and I was queen of the God damned prom.

This didn’t happen overnight: I started writing fiction freshman year of college, but when The Magicians was published? I was 40. I am now 45. I’ve been at this every day, just trying to be myself on the page as honestly as I can, for a quarter of a century. When I got that message I felt like Julia when she finally does her first magic spell, after being shut out of Brakebills and wandering in the wilderness for years. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t fucking believe it. I waved my hands and said the words and it worked.

It wasn’t just me. It was you too. There is no medium in the world as collaborative as writing is. You don’t get anywhere as a writer without having great readers, who put time and money and thought and tears into making your words mean things. Maybe it’s a polllyanna-ish thing to say but it is also the stone cold truth. Any writer will tell you the same.

I put my head in my hands. I looked out the window for a while. I didn’t want to share the news quite yet – I wanted it to myself for a second. Then I looked at my phone: the New York Times had tweeted it, and social media was starting to blow up. E-mails started packing into my in-box. I looked out the window a bit more. People will tell you that they love LA, or they hate LA, and they may or may not mean it, but let me tell you: at that moment, I fucking loved LA.

The cab arrived. I paid Willie. We hugged it out. I was at the Paramount lot, where I was about to sit in on auditions for the Magicians TV show, which is another completely incredible story which I’ll write about at some point. Paramount security had no idea who I was, so I had to stand around in the parking lot waiting to be rescued by a production assistant, but I didn’t care, not in the slightest. My phone was at 3%, so I just had time to call my wife and tell her the news before it died. I didn’t care about that either.

Soon time would pass, everything would die down, life would go on, everything would go back to normal. Little things would start to bug me again. I would have seasonal affective disorder. I would doubt myself, and others, and the world. The usual.

But not for a while.

35 comments on “What It Feels Like When Your Book Goes to #1

  1. Mary says:


  2. Mark says:

    Well deserved, Congratulations! Nice reading about *your* story (your story meaning the story of you, not the story you wrote!).

  3. Timothy says:

    WOW. Wow. Spell it backwards: still wow. Congratulations!

  4. John says:

    Have I mentioned how much I do not want a Magicians tv show especially on SYFY or Fox. A movie absolutely, but why I do not want a show. I worry that the story would get bogged down never leaving Brakebills diverting far afield from the novels, never going to Fillory, never growing up. I guess I worry that it will become Dawsons Creek with magic.

  5. John says:

    Also Congratulations on hitting number one.

  6. Anna-Christina says:

    Congratulations! Well deserved and fucking awesome. So happy for you.

  7. Jaimie says:

    My thoughts on this (this is a blog comment after all) is that it’s like a hit of a good drug. Really nice, and a good memory, and then back to work. This is not negating the hard work you put in to get here, and how awesome it is that you did get here; this is me just thinking about the feels of it.

    The cool thing about this is the 3rd book rocked, and it made the whole series better in a landscape where 3rd books often make whole series (seri? serieses? Bagginses?) worse, and I’m happier about that than some list somewhere. Just personally.

    I’m being really hipster about this. This is great for your career. Also series is both singular and plural, but you probably knew that.

  8. Holly says:

    Congratulations! Well deserved and a great story about the surreal experience of things going well!

  9. Susan says:

    I finished reading The Magician’s Land last night at around midnight. Which was really unfortunate as I had a seven am meeting and I knew I would be groggy.

    Congratulations on making #1.

    Thank you for the fantastic entertainment, I loved the books.

    And I agree – bacon makes things better. Much better. Even when you have only had six hours of sleep because you just *had* to stay up past midnight to find out how the story ends.

  10. Nicole says:

    So glad. I’ve loved your Magicians books since they first came out, and this is clear evidence that we all do. 🙂

  11. Gary says:

    So happy for you! What’s next?

  12. Josh says:

    Congratufuckinglations! Thanks for writing an awesome trilogy. I have read each book three times now. I love them all so much.

    I can only imagine the feeling you’re describing, but it does remind me that the part where Julia “sob[s] like a child who’d been beaten” was what really caught in my throat, and made me realize I was reading an epic tale that was in part about what it means to have empathy for your fellow human beings. (I don’t wanna tell you what your own books are about but that is one of the main things I got out of it.) Nothing was quite the same after that.

  13. Jodi says:

    Congratulations, Lev! What a wonderful accomplishment!

    I thoroughly enjoyed the series – so happy I found it.

  14. Al says:

    Congratulations, That’s amazing and you totally deserve it, I loved the books, although haven’t read this one yet. Speaking of which, not to bust your chops, but just wondering if there’s some kind of mailing list to find out when the UK kindle version is out. So far checking amazon
    everyday but would love to get the news asap. Again congrats and sorry for bothering you but just really want to read the next book.

  15. Laurie Sue says:

    My sister and I used to play “Magic Land” when we were young. These books brought that part of my life back to me. Do you know the Edward Eager books–Half-Magic, Seven-Day Magic,etc.?

    I’m 70 percent done with the Magician’s Land and don’t want it to end. I’m only reading a little each night.

    Congratulations and Bravo!

  16. Geral says:


  17. Dan O'Neill says:

    Fuck yeah! You deserve this!

  18. Philly says:

    Great news!
    It’s a great finale to the first two.

    I had preordered ‘Magicians Land’; it downloaded to my device precisely at midnight on August 5; and I was waiting for it.
    I happened to be on vacation in Maine (LOL -I recall you do not remember Maine with much fondness).
    I raced through it, then downloaded the first 2 (I have them in hardcover, but at home in ATL) to re read and cross reference.

    On my return trip a few days later, I was stuck on the ground in the airplane for a couple of hours while a monster thunderstorm tore through Atlanta; lucky me, I had the ‘Magicians’ series on my iPad.

    I’ve now re read all three books. They flow nicely, one right after the other – I highly recommend it.

    See you at the Decatur, GA book festival – you are coming again, right?

  19. Leverus says:

    I’m coming to Decatur!

  20. Steven Axelrod says:

    Great news. I feel like my little secret finally got out though I discovered the first book by accident, wandering through a strange bookstore in a distant city (no crow in a cage, alas). In a weird way it kind of reminds me of when my son Nick, who had been amusing me and delighting me for years, suddenly became the most popular kid in school. The secret was out! It was slightly sad (I guess these things and people and places I love aren’t really my property, after all); but mostly it was a huge thrill and a giant relief. Nick grew up quite well — and so did Quentin.

  21. Amy Sisson says:

    Very glad to hear this! My long-ago-pre-ordered copy is waiting for me at home and I am dying to start reading it.

  22. araminty says:

    Congratulations! I’m starting my first of many re-reads – couldn’t do it right away, as my husband claimed my kindle to read it too. Sorry I missed you in Menlo Park, but I hope you enjoyed your visit to the Bay Area. We like books around here.

  23. Dawn says:

    Congratulations, Lev! I’m savoring book 3 right now (got a little verklempt at the end of chapter 23 last night). Five years later and your writing still blows me away–so imaginative and witty. I cannot think of a writer more deserving of being #1.

  24. Victoria Kay says:

    Congrats! You deserve it. I’m currently reading ML, trying to savor it as well. Sad about the auditions in LA though–I desperately wanted to be in it. I’m sure the casting will be great though–My mother and I can’t wait to see it on screen 🙂

  25. Blake Fraina says:

    I know I’m late to the party, but congrats to you. Don’t have the book yet. I was trying to wait for the paperback, but the suspense is killing me so I may have to borrow it from the local library this weekend.

    It must be nice to know you bring readers such pleasure.

    And about the TV show – I truly hope it’s half as wonderful as the books – because it will be pretty wonderful. Between that and the BBC adaptation of Strange and Norrell, I think Ill be in fantasy lit mini-series heaven.

    Last thing – I may be in the minority here, but any chance we’ll see a sequel to Codex?

  26. John says:

    +1 for more Codex

  27. Jason (Neglected UK Kindle owner) says:

    Congratulations, but… arrgh why won’t you sell me your book please sell me your book when will you sell me your book why do you hate us whyyyyyy? 🙁

    — Neglected Kindle Owner, UK

  28. Amber M says:

    Congratulations Lev! I just finished the final book today, after picking up The Magicians a couple weeks ago. I’ve been absolutely enthralled with your writing. I’m a college student and an aspiring writer, and I feel like these books came to me at a very timely point in my life. Thank you so much for sharing the world(s) of magic with us.

    Come back to California some time!

    – Amber

  29. After you wrotes about me in Time, and we became friends on facebook. I have always viewed you as role model and an example embracing ones “nerd” to empower success. If it we me, I think a look at non traditional sources for media adoption like Hulu would be worthwhile. They are sore off of the Emmy snub, have lots of cash, ” because game of thrones” and more and more of my peers and younger do not even have TV; just a fast internet connection.

  30. Mike Lewis says:

    I pre-ordered magicians land received it within a day of release and finished listening to it the very next day. I am blind so I have to get the audio book but all three of these book are 3 of my favorite I have read. Please start writing your next trilogy, based on some of the characters, as soon as possible.
    -A happy fan

  31. Eric Kaufman says:

    i am a big fan of fantasy novels, but I’m rather picky. There are a handful of authors who, when I see that they have a book coming out, I get ridiculously excited: Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Deborah Harkness, Susanna Clarke (at least, if she ever comes out with her second novel, in which case I would flip a lid *sigh*) and you, Mr. Grossman. Oh, there are a number of other Fantasy authors whose books I read and often quite enjoy, but I consider you my “fab five.” A cut above the rest of current writers. I usually keep on top of you all, but due to recent life events, I’ve been a bit distracted, so it was only by chance that I discovered you had published the third book in the Magicians trilogy (thanks to Barnes and Noble’s website). Let me tell you, I let out an audible gasp, followed by an even more audible “yes!” I just can’t wait to go down and pick up a copy for myself.

    In any event, I just wanted to congratulate you on hitting #1 on the NYT, and, more importantly, to inform you of your place on this (far more exclusive) list. I look forward to reading your blog post about your reaction to finding out you made “Kaufman’s Fab Five” 😉

    Thank you for creating these books, which have provided me (and all your “lesser” readers) with so much enjoyment and delight!

  32. Drew McClain says:

    I can’t say anything that my fellow congratulators haven’t already said (namely: congratulations), but I’ll add my own reverberation for emphasis: Congratulations!

  33. Manisha says:

    Lev – What really impressed me about this third book is the way you moved from a coming-of-age story to a coming-to-adulthood story; how people come to terms with their limitations and grow into their powers. It was all really well done and I thank you for it. I look forward to re-reading the entire series. Congrats!

  34. S Jackson says:

    Congratulations on your List spot! I know that “best seller” doesn’t always mean “best book” but in your case, I think it does. Thank you for bringing me back to the genre; I had left it long ago, but your books pulled me back. I have to admit, you made me tear up a bit in Chapter 29. I must have looked like a lunatic sitting on the Metro, sniffing, smiling, and trying to drag my brain back into reality when I reached my stop. Now I’m reading Tom Holt because I need something fluffy after all that.

    Also thank you for giving us fully formed female characters. If you ever feel the urge, I’d love a Julia or Plum book. I really missed Julia, and was glad to reunite with her.

  35. […] the book did well;. It got some good reviews. It went to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. That is an incredible gift for a writer. It makes you […]

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